by Mike Henry

Eoin Harty and Arnaud Delacour were clocking workouts from a Grandstand box at Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday morning when the subject turned to the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

“I think we’re in deep water Saturday,” said Harty, the trainer of My Johnny Be Good.

“It’s come up a lot tougher than anyone expected,” agreed Delacour, the conditioner of Divining Rod.

Five weeks ago in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, Divining Rod and My Johnny Be Good finished second and third, respectively, to Ocean Knight, who staged a strong stretch rally to win by a neck despite racing wide on both turns.

After Tuesday’s announcement that Ocean Knight will return to Oldsmar for the Tampa Bay Derby for owner Stonestreet Stables, LLC rather than fly to New York for the Grade III Gotham Stakes, Harty and Delacour might have felt a need to commiserate.

Ocean Knight, whose victory in the Sam F. Davis elevated him into the top-10 on most Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands watch lists, could vie for the role of Tampa Bay Derby betting favorite with Grade I winner and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Carpe Diem in the 35th edition of the Oldsmar showcase.

Despite the presence of the top two colts, nine horses are entered in the Tampa Bay Derby, a mile-and-a-sixteenth contest on the main dirt track. The race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, a points system that will help to determine the field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

The Tampa Bay Derby has produced a pair of Kentucky Derby winners: 2007 winner Street Sense and the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher, Super Saver.

The Tampa Bay Derby is one of four awe-inspiring races scheduled on the 12-race Festival Day card, which begins at 12:22 p.m. The gates open at 10:30 a.m. The Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th race on the card, with a listed post time of 5:23 p.m.

Also slated are the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf, featuring multiple Grade I-winning 6-year-old mare Stephanie’s Kitten; and the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main dirt surface.

All told, there are 48 horses entered in the four stakes and an attractive undercard, amounting to a Tampa Bay Downs record single-day purse outlay of $975,900.

“We could not be more delighted with the quality of entries for Saturday, both for our four Festival Day stakes and our eight undercard races,” said Tampa Bay Downs Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube. “It’s a tribute to the diligence of our racing office staff, headed by Racing Secretary Allison De Luca, and the year-long efforts of our Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces, Tom McLaughlin, and his crew in keeping both the dirt and turf courses in excellent condition.

“We are looking forward to an outstanding afternoon of racing and believe there is a strong possibility one or more of our Tampa Bay Derby entrants will find themselves in Louisville on the first Saturday in May,” Berube added.

Carpe Diem, who vaulted to prominence last fall with a victory in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, is owned in partnership by WinStar Farm, LLC and Stonestreet Stables, LLC and trained by Todd Pletcher, who has an enviable record of success in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Since saddling his first Tampa Bay Derby starter in 2000 – Impeachment, who finished second to Wheelaway – Pletcher has sent out 14 Tampa Bay Derby starters. He won the race with Limehouse in 2004 and Verrazano in 2013 and has posted seven seconds (including four in a row from 2006-2009), three thirds and a fourth.

The conditioner’s best-known third-place Tampa Bay Derby finisher, of course, was Super Saver, who used the race as a stepping stone to Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands glory.

By contrast, McLaughlin has stated only one horse in the Tampa Bay Derby – Mustanfar, who finished second by a neck to Limehouse 11 years ago.

Both Carpe Diem and Ocean Knight have trained exceptionally well leading to the Tampa Bay Derby, and their trainers are optimistic of good showings. But there are few easy spots when $350,000 is at stake, and with the addition to the mix of Road to the Kentucky Derby points – 50 for first, 20 for second, 10 for third and five for fourth – the top two can expect to face determined efforts from most of their opponents.

Here is the full field for the Tampa Bay Derby in post position order, along with each horse’s trainer and jockey:

  1. Divining Rod, Arnaud Delacour, Luis Garcia; 2. Ocean Knight, Kiaran McLaughlin, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 3. Carpe Diem, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 4. Ami’s Flatter, Josie Carroll, Luis Contreras; 5. My Johnny Be Good, Eoin Harty, Antonio Gallardo; 6. Souper Colossal, Edward Plesa, Jr., Joel Rosario; 7. Great Stuff, Ian Wilkes, Leandro Goncalves; 8. Moonlight Bandit, Mark Casse, Jose Lezcano; 9. Danzig Moon, Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux.

Moonlight Bandit was not originally nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby, requiring owner John C. Oxley to supplement him to the race for a fee of $7,500.

The Florida Oaks, to be run as the ninth race, has produced a pair of Kentucky Oaks winners in 1992 champ Luv Me Luv Me Not and 2000 winner Secret Status (albeit, back when the Florida Oaks was run on dirt).

The 32nd edition of the race, and fifth on the turf, has attracted a deep field of 14 sophomore lasses, including a pair of $3,000 supplemental entries: Tiger Ride, bred and owned by Dixiana Farms LLC, and Klaravich Stables, Inc. and William H. Lawrence’s Consumer Credit, who won the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream in her most recent start.

Certain to draw wagering support are the Tom Proctor-trained Include Betty, who won the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes on the dirt here on Jan. 31, and the William Mott-conditioned Quality Rocks, who finished a length behind Consumer Credit in the Sweetest Chant.

The Hillsborough is the 10th race, and while 12 are entered, Stephanie’s Kitten towers above the rest based on her sterling career accomplishments. Bred and owned by Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey and a daughter of their champion sire, Kitten’s Joy, Stephanie’s Kitten won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and was second in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Her career record of 8-for-19 includes three Grade I triumphs and $2.6-million in earnings. She is trained by Chad Brown and will be ridden by John Velazquez. The Ramseys entered her in the Fasig-Tipton November mixed auction in Kentucky, but pulled her back when she failed to meet her reserve price of $4-million.

The Challenger Stakes – won three years ago by Fort Larned, the Ian Wilkes-trainee who went on to win that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic – could easily stand on its own as a race of major importance. It will be contested as the eighth race Saturday.

The powerhouse 13-horse field includes 5-year-old Java’s War, who finished second in the 2013 Tampa Bay Derby before capturing the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland; the Pletcher-trained General a Rod, who as a 3-year-old last season won the Gulfstream Park Derby, finished third in the Grade I Florida Derby and competed in all three Triple Crown races; and the Ian Wilkes-trained, multiple graded-stakes winning 6-year-old Neck ‘n Neck.

On today’s card, jockey Jose Angel Garcia rode two winners, both on the turf. He captured the third race on 4-year-old filly Shatter for owners Aschinger Bloodstock, LLC and Dana Aschinger and trainer Gerry Aschinger, and added the ninth and final race con 6-year-old gelding Toy Cannon for owner William Rivera and trainer Victor Carrasco, Jr.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.     

Gallardo recognized by Jockeys’ Guild. Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo received his second Jockeys’ Guild Jockey of the Week Award after going 10-for-29 last week with seven seconds and six thirds. The Jockey of the week is the centerpiece of, a website offering news, features, social media and statistics.

Gallardo, who won last year’s Oldsmar title with 124 victories, leads the current standings with 89. The Spaniard has ridden 56 winners in 2015, second to two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano with 74.